A Lagos state high court has ruled that Fanta and Sprite, soft drinks produced by the Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC), contain excessive levels of additives which make them unsafe for human consumption.
This ruling is the result of a 2008 suit filed by one Emmanuel Adebo, a Nigerian businessman, after his company was unable to sell large quantities of the drinks in the United Kingdom.
Adedayo Oyebanji, the presiding judge, ordered the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to direct the manufacturer to include a warning on the containers of the product that its content cannot be taken with Vitamin C.
Abiodun Onidare, Fijabi's lawyer, told the court that his client bought large quantities of products for export to the UK, but that the products failed to meet the country's health authorities sample test.
He said they were declared unfit for human consumption "because they became poisonous" after being mixed with Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C).
"These results were corroborated by other agencies in European Union countries, which found the products to contain excessive levels of sunset yellow and benzoic acid, additives which are known to be carcinogenic (capable of causing cancer)," he said.
Adebo said the products were eventually seized and destroyed by health authorities.
In its defense, NBC admitted supplying the products, but argued that they were meant for local distribution and consumption.
It said Coca-Cola, manufactured and bottled by franchise holders in various countries, including the United Kingdom, has stringent quality control procedures to ensure that its products are safe for end-user consumption.
The claimant demanded N15.1 million as special damages and N1.6 million, being the money the NBC admitted it received from him.
NAFDAC did not file any defense in the case. In her judgement, Oyebanji said the knowledge of the NBC that the products were to be exported was not significant to its being fit for human consumption.
"The court is in absolute agreement with the learned counsel for the claimants that soft drinks manufactured by Nigeria Bottling Company ought to be fit for human consumption irrespective of race, colour or creed," she held.
"It is manifest that NAFDAC has been grossly irresponsible in its regulatory duties to the consumers of Fanta and Sprite manufactured by Nigeria Bottling Company."
She said NAFDAC had failed Nigerians by certifying as satisfactory for human consumption, products which failed sample test for human consumption in the UK.
"The court, in the light of the damning evidence before it showing that NAFDAC has failed to live up to expectations, cannot close its eyes to the grievous implication of allowing the status quo to continue as it is," she held.
"That NAFDAC shall forthwith mandate Nigeria Bottling Company to, within 90 days hereof, include on all the bottles of Fanta and Sprite soft drinks manufactured by the company, a written warning that the content of the said bottles of Fanta and Sprite soft drinks cannot be taken with Vitamin C as same becomes poisonous if taken with Vitamin C.
"In consideration of the fact that this case was filed in 2008 and that it has been in court for nine years, costs of N2 million is awarded against NAFDAC. Interest shall be paid on the costs awarded at the rate of 10% per annum until liquidation of the said sum."